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Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Page: 1767


Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (17:31): On 25 October 2010 I stood in this place for the first time to deliver my maiden speech. Our maiden speeches to the parliament act as yardsticks of our aspirations and aims. They deserve to be reviewed regularly so that we can recall the priorities with which we came to this place. Over the last 3½ years I have had parts of my speech quoted to me, and I have also on occasion myself revisited it. During my maiden speech I thanked the people of McPherson for the trust they had put in me to represent their interests both on the Gold Coast and here in this place. I thank them again today for the support they have given me and for re-electing me as their representative in federal parliament. I have never taken the trust and support of the people of McPherson for granted, and each and every day I do my best to represent them and the electorate and to achieve good outcomes nationally and for the Gold Coast.

As an incoming government we face many challenges. We come to government after a period of political instability and division. We come here saddled with the biggest national debt in our nation's history and with a sluggish economy. But we also come here with great resolve, great hope and great determination to deliver better government for the people of Australia. I look forward to working in the coalition team to bring about positive change and to explaining the tough decisions we will have to make. Australia was not served well by the previous government, which did not make the tough choices, which weakened border protection to appease special interest groups and which bickered amongst itself while spending ever larger amounts of taxpayer funds—most of which were wasted on poor policies which did not deliver. On this side of the House we are determined to do much better. In my maiden speech three years ago I spoke about three specific issues—infrastructure, business and veterans—and I will speak about these three issues again today as well as a couple more.

I start with infrastructure—specifically, transport infrastructure. In my view, the Gold Coast has not properly come to terms with its transport infrastructure needs, because answering the question for whom we need to provide services is a real balancing act. The Gold Coast is unique in that it has a population of around 527,000 people and a population which is estimated to be growing at a rate of around 1,500 people per month due to interstate migration, yet we are visited by over 11 million tourists each year. Just think of that—there are around half a million local residents on the Gold Coast, but we are visited by over 20 times that number of tourists every year. Tourism expenditure on the Gold Coast is a whopping $12.1 million per day. Our regional economy is worth an impressive $18.2 billion annually, and this figure has doubled over the last decade.

We have a relatively small resident population base, so it is clear that tourism is the lifeblood of our local economy. It is also clear that we need to ensure that we are meeting the needs of tourists, because without tourists many of our city's businesses would struggle if not fail. It is important to remember that many of the businesses involved in the tourist trade are not large international or national chains but small businesses. Accommodation providers, restaurants, cafes, specialty stores, surfboard shapers and local tourism operators are all largely run by dedicated individuals who put in the hard work both to provide a quality service to visitors and to put food on the table for their families.

So we know that much of our city is reliant on tourists and the tourism dollar and that we should be doing all we can to encourage tourists to visit the Gold Coast and, preferably, to return each year. But in meeting the needs of tourists we must be careful to ensure that we do not neglect the needs of our residents. We should be identifying opportunities for transport to provide a service to both residents and tourists where possible. The southern Gold Coast in particular seems to be a distant end of the line for public transport which becomes less well-serviced the further south you go from Brisbane. The Gold Coast has specific transport issues which are different to those of most cities because, unlike other cities, the Gold Coast does not have a central business district with roads leading directly to and from the outer suburbs. The Gold Coast is a long coastal strip made up of individual villages which have grown over time to join together. This fact is particularly evident on the southern Gold Coast around the Tugun, Bilinga and Kirra areas.

The Gold Coast is constructed along three main thoroughfares: firstly, the M1, which links the Pacific Motorway south of the Queensland-New South Wales border to Brisbane; secondly, the Gold Coast Highway, which runs the length of the Gold Coast coastline from the border to Labrador; and, thirdly, Bermuda Street, Bundall Road and Ferry Road, all of which run through the centre of the M1 and the Gold Coast Highway, largely from Burleigh and Reedy Creek to Southport. The Gold Coast Highway and the road whose name I will simplify by referring to it as Bermuda Street cater primarily to local traffic, both resident and tourist. The M1 is the main route for freight vehicles and traffic heading to and from Brisbane and the surrounding areas. It caters to over 100,000 vehicles each day. It is also important for commuters to Brisbane and for residents in enabling them to get to and from where they need to be in the most direct and timely fashion.

There is a long history to the M1. In 2007 the Howard government committed to providing over $400 million worth of funds to upgrade the M1, with the section between Tugun and Nerang identified as a priority area. This commitment was matched by the Rudd government. However, after Labor took office in 2007 the priorities were downgraded and the priority areas became those north of the Gold Coast. Despite this, though, some progress has been made over the last couple of years. In particular, the upgrade between Worongary and Mudgeeraba has been completed six months ahead of schedule and the upgrade further south is proceeding. This is the priority to complete, and I will be working closely with the Deputy Prime Minister to deliver the upgrades in the shortest possible time frames.

The other transport options that deserve further consideration are the extension of the heavy rail from Varsity further south to the airport and the extension of the light rail. We already know that to extend the heavy and light rail comes with a multibillion dollar price tag. So the issue becomes, how do we meet the current and future needs of residents and tourists, who we know wish to stay within one kilometre of the beach? This is where we need to look at the existing bus network and supplement it with a rapid bus that will operate north from the airport to connect with the heavy rail at Varsity and also provide rapid transport to Burleigh Heads, Broadbeach and Surfers Paradise. Clearly, the existing network needs to be maintained to service local areas, so the rapid bus system would be in addition to, and not instead of, existing services. The last thing that I want to see happen, with the Commonwealth Games fast approaching, is that visitors fly into Brisbane and commute south to the Games venues, with the result that the Gold Coast misses out on an enormous option to boost the local economy.

Meeting the Gold Coast's transport infrastructure needs is crucial to maintaining local economic growth and all levels of government need to work together to this end. The Gold Coast is not just a tourism mecca—it is also one of our nation's fastest growing large cities, with a five-year annual average growth rate of 3.2 per cent, compared with 1.8 per cent population growth for Australia. I recommit myself today to working with my colleagues at the state and local government level to work for better infrastructure on the Gold Coast. While we are better placed, with coalition governments at all levels, we also have state and federal governments that are trying to pay back massive debts left by Labor. We desperately need to balance the books in order to ensure our ongoing economic stability, so spending must be done wisely and with purpose.

Let me turn now to business and particularly small business. I spoke earlier about the types of small businesses that make up the Gold Coast economy. We have a huge concentration of mum-and-dad small businesses. These are the types of businesses that are most hard-hit when the economy is sluggish and consumer confidence is down. These are the types of businesses that really do it tough when the government fails to create a robust economy, especially on the Gold Coast, where we rely on many inter- and intrastate visitors. The family holiday is often something that gets cut or scaled back when family budgets are stretched. And family budgets were certainly stretched under the previous government, with record hikes in electricity and gas bills due to the carbon tax and other creeping taxes that add to the cost of living. The best thing any government can do for business is create the thriving, stable economy that is needed. That is something we are very determined to do. As part of our plan we will cut red tape by about $1 billion a year, freeing small businesses and our communities from this burden. I certainly look forward to 'Repeal Day' later this month when we get a chance in this place to vote to get rid of some of the 21,000 new regulations that Labor put in place during their term. Red tape is a constant source of frustration and an ongoing business cost, so I am pleased we are moving swiftly to start cutting it.

I am also very pleased that, as promised, we have elevated the position of small business minister to cabinet and located it within the Treasury department. This is a clear reflection of the value and importance that the coalition places on the role of small business as central to our economy. I note that the Minister for Small Business has owned and run his own small business, just as I and many other members of this place have, and I know he is a passionate advocate for small business. I look forward to working with him over the coming term and introducing him to some of the hardworking local small businesses on the Gold Coast.

I think it is also worth mentioning the role that our local chambers of commerce play in organising, networking and advocating on behalf of businesses. I am very fortunate in my electorate to have several very active chambers of commerce. To the members, and particularly the executive, of the Gold Coast Central Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Gold Coast Chamber of Commerce, the Creek to Creek Chamber and the Mudgeeraba Chamber of Commerce—I thank you for your time and dedication in representing the interests of small business. I look forward to continuing to work with you over the coming term. I will, of course, also continue to work closely with the Small Business Association of Australia, an organisation that advocates strongly for small business.

The third issue that I would like to speak about today is our veteran community, and I take this opportunity to say how much I have appreciated the opportunity to work closely with our veteran community over the last three years. I mentioned in my maiden speech that my father was a World War II veteran who served in the RAAF. He later went on to be a strong advocate for veterans as national secretary-treasurer of the Australian Federation of Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Ex-Servicemen and Women, the TPIs. He was a warrior for his country and for veterans' rights, and I have vowed to continue his work in supporting the veteran community in any way I can. As we approach the Centenary of Anzac I am sure there will be many more opportunities for closer engagement. Already I have received several applications under the Centenary of Anzac Grants Program, and over the coming weeks and months my committee and I will be working to ensure the best outcome for the electorate.

I also look forward to delivering our promise, in our first budget, to implement fair indexation of military superannuation. All DFRB and DFRDB military superannuants aged 55 and over will have their pensions indexed in the same way the age pension is indexed, rather than just based on the CPI as it currently is. It is only fair that we deliver this equity measure as a reflection of the value we place on those who have served in our nation's military. We have to remain vigilant and ensure that the legacy of our veterans continues to be recognised.

There has been some speculation, as part of the debate on our national curriculum, that elements of our military history have been 'crowded out' of the school curriculum. The review of the national curriculum is very important, and I welcome it, as a way of giving parents and educators more say in what should be taught. The curriculum needs to be focused on the students and the skills they need to succeed, not on the latest fashionable ideology.

I am also hopeful that as a part of the ongoing debate we can put a focus back on the value and importance of maths and science. Unfortunately, Australian graduation rates in the mathematical sciences are only half the OECD average for men and one-third for women. More than 30 per cent of secondary maths classes are taught by staff not trained as maths teachers. As someone who had a love of maths and science and went on to become an engineer—which was certainly not a career path that many women chose at that time—it really saddens me to see how the teaching of maths and science in our schools has declined. Once again, the coalition's focus on teacher training and providing more flexibility, particularly through our independent public schools initiative, will, I hope, allow us to address this decline, which has resulted in a skills shortage which is only likely to worsen in the years ahead. I have certainly seen how it can work with Varsity College in my electorate, which became an independent public school this year and at the same time established a specialist program for maths and science.

I am very certain that my own background in engineering, as one of only two qualified engineers in this parliament, means that I bring a unique perspective to this place. Engineering is an important profession and, due to the lack of students studying maths and science, one in which Australia has a very real shortage. The work of engineers really forms the link between scientific discoveries and how we apply them to improve our quality of life. Our advancement as a society really depends on encouraging more people into the disciplines of maths, science and engineering, and it is certainly something I will continue to do in this place over the coming term.

I also have the unique opportunity to put some of my knowledge of engineering and project management to use as chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Public Works. I was very honoured to be asked to take on the chairmanship of a committee that oversees spending on public works. In 2012 the committee examined projects worth a combined total of over $3.2 billion. I look forward to working diligently and effectively to ensure that public works spending is well placed and accounted for.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of McPherson for having confidence in me and re-electing me for a second term as their federal member. To the members of the Liberal National Party who have supported me and campaigned so hard for a coalition government, I say thank you. To the Liberal National Party president, Bruce McIver, and the executive and staff of the Liberal National Party: thank you for your continued support and assistance, particularly during the election campaign. My thanks also go to the McPherson FDC executive: chairman Peter McKean and his wife, Lesley McKean; vice-chairman Keith Maitland; treasurer John Leff and his wife, Esther Leff, and secretary Ben Naday. I cannot thank you enough for your tireless campaigning over such a long period of time. To the literally hundreds of campaign volunteers who helped me in so many different ways: thank you. I could not have done it without you. To Wendy Perrins, Nola Mattei, Bruce and Muriel Duncan, Janelle Manders, Hamish Douglas and Natalie Douglas, I say thank you. To our booth captains, scrutineers and booth workers: thank you. I could not have done it without you. To my staff, for their professionalism and their willingness to go that extra mile, I say thank you. To my patron senator, Senator the Hon. Brett Mason: thank you for your support and encouragement and for launching my campaign. To Madam Speaker, who helped me enormously during my first term, I say thank you.

To my sister, Ann, who once again made the trip back to help with the campaign and spent so many hours on pre-poll: how lucky am I to have you as my sister. To my mother, Moya Weir: what can I say to the person who never wants to be the centre of attention but makes such an enormous contribution? Thank you just does not seem to be enough. To my father, William Weir OAM: I wish you were here today and every day. To my husband, Chris: I just do not know how you do everything that you do. I never have to ask for your support; it is always there. I hope you know how much I appreciate you. As they were in my first speech, my final words today are to my three daughters: Emma, who is 18, Jane, who is 13—almost 14—and Kate, who is 10. Girls, you are such special people, with a wonderful future ahead of you, and I am so very proud of you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives. I thank the House.